Last week QNews reported on an incident at the Poets Cafe, Montville. During Pride month, as marchers joined Black Lives Matter protests worldwide, and in the midst of the greatest global health crisis for a century, a lesbian couple — both health workers, one black — found themselves rudely ordered out of a cafe in the mountains overlooking the Sunshine Coast.
There are two sides to every story, they say — and in Montville — two sides of the street.
A wealthy local businessman named Ron Geyl owns the Poets Cafe. After making his fortune in construction in Sydney, Geyl returned home to the Sunshine Coast in the 1990s. He bought land — lots of it — some of it in Montville.
Following the social media furore kicked off by the Poets Cafe Montville story, QNews spoke with numerous people about the incident. They include former and current staff, friends and associates, local residents, business owners and disgruntled customers.
Traditionally, the site of present-day Montville provided a resting place for the Gubbi Gubbi People of the coast on their trek into the mountains to visit the neighbouring Jinibara People. The Jinibara Nation invited neighbours from across southern Queensland and northern New South Wales to a Bunya Nut Festival about every three years.
In 1842, before the establishment of Queensland as a colony, the governor of NSW declared the Bunya Mountains off-limits to squatters and timber-getters, reserving it for the exclusive use of the traditional owners.
However, under the first-in, best-dressed system that typified the colonisation of Australia, established squatters excluded new-comers from ‘settled’ land. Therefore, those who came late to the party simply ignored government prohibition and moved onto proscribed lands. Colonial governments, ever in need of revenue, later legalised the trespass retrospectively.
The first whites in the area called the place ‘Razorback’ for its steep ridge. However, a community meeting soon decided on the more poetic appellation the mountain village goes by still.
The town’s early dependence on farming and timber lessened in the 1920s when tourism began to provide a substantial income. Visitors from the coast and Brisbane stayed in guest houses in the main street. Montville enjoyed renown as a friendly and welcoming mountain holiday retreat. In the latter decades of the twentieth century, the village developed a reputation as a centre of arts and crafts. Collectors still celebrate the acquisition of a piece from the legendary Montville Pottery which operated from 1966 until the late 1990s.
Two sides of the street
In Montville, Ron Geyl identified an unexploited opportunity. Main Street runs along a ridge with phenomenal scenic views over the Sunshine Coast hinterland all the way to the ocean. However, because of the perceived danger of land slippage, business owners built on the non-scenic side of the street. With his background in construction, Geyl saw that he could safely build opposite the established businesses to take advantage of the view.
Geyl has numerous detractors. QNews spoke to many of them. But, whatever faults they find with the man, all agree on one thing. Geyl designs and constructs sensationally beautiful buildings. He possesses an amazing eye for detail and his placement of buildings into their landscape is immaculate. One only has to look at his Chapel Montville. Local legend has it he bought some of the chapel stonework from the demolition site of a centuries-old European cathedral.
But, whatever his affinity with buildings, everyone QNews spoke to also agreed, the owner of all these glorious structures is notoriously rude.
Reviews of Poets Cafe Montville
Numerous reviews of his business, over many years, attest to unprompted rudeness to patrons. Some Google reviews allege racism. Others indicate appalling behaviour towards older people and young mothers. Local business owners say he disparages the opposite side of the street as ‘the peasant’s side’. Notably, despite a membership of over 80 local businesses, the Montville Chamber of Commerce business directory appears to include none of Ron Geyl’s enterprises.
Some commenters responding to the QNews article on social media pointed out that Geyl is rude to everyone. While that seems the case, it is not actually true. In addition to numerous negative reviews, Poets Cafe Montville also enjoys glowing testimonials.
So, why are some customers treated differently?
Since reopening after the lifting of restrictions, the cafe, according to various reviews, ignores COVID Safe regulations. However, the staff dare not overlook ‘Ron’s Rules’. Although ‘Ron’s Rules’ do not appear in any statute book or regulatory guide, they are sufficient to see patrons spoken to rudely, yelled at, refused service, and ordered off the premise.
A glance through the cafe reviews suggests ‘Ron’s Rules’ include actions like bringing prams into the cafe, pushing tables together to accommodate groups, or sometimes just wanting a seat with a view. One couple paying a substantial sum to marry in the chapel discovered that simply asking to place non ‘standard’ candles on the altar incurred Ron’s wrath.
While most businesses avoid rudeness to customers, rudeness of itself is not illegal.
What is illegal is discriminating against customers in the provision of goods and services on any of the 16 different grounds nominated in the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act.
Neither QNews nor the couple who were ordered out of the cafe have alleged any discrimination by Ron Geyl. Quite simply, no one other than Ron Geyl appears to know what triggered his behaviour last Sunday. The couple ordered coffee and asked for a menu. They noticed Ron Geyl glaring at them. Despite telling four different staff members they wished to order food, they were ignored. Then, the moment they sipped from their coffee, Ron Geyl instructed a staff member to take the women their bill. When they inquired as to the problem, Geyl ordered them to leave and never return.
There are only two discernible differences between these women and other patrons of the cafe that morning. By virtue of holding hands, they were obviously lesbians, and one of them is black.
The issue then comes down to: did Geyl just choose the women at random as victims of his ire that morning, or did they unknowingly infringe on one of ‘Ron’s Rules’? Or did he order them out because they were lesbians or because one was black?
On an LGBTIQ+ Facebook page, someone posted in reference to the QNews article, “This is not accurate.”
This writer asked that person to specify a single inaccuracy.
“Destiny Rogers, the girls weren’t asked to leave because of their lifestyle choices nor ethnicity and the owner is not homophobic in any shape or form.”
The term ‘lifestyle choices’ to describe sexuality is telling.
Beyond that, the comment implies unspecified wrongdoing by the victims. Perhaps, a sin too dastardly to mention in polite company?
But what really caught our eye was the final emphatic paragraph. “The owner is not homophobic in any shape or form.”
Ron Geyl has LGBTIQ+ relatives and has employed LGBTIQ+ staff. The Chapel Montville hosted same-sex weddings even before the Marriage Equality vote and since.
However, none of that matters if he denied those women the provision of goods and services because they held hands. Or if he denied same because one was a Person of Colour…
Annoyed by people crying ‘Fake News’ when the facts did not suit their agenda, I became mouthy. I wearied of troll’s carefree attacks on the credibility of the two health workers.
“There must be more to the story.”
“There are two sides to every story.”
No! What QNews found during research after initially talking to the victims, was that their experience was consistent with those recounted in numerous reviews on various platforms over many years. Did all of those individuals collude to paint the same picture?
I asked the person who posted that the story was inaccurate to ‘put up or STFU’. She took offence to my ‘swearing’.
She should hear how customers claim her brother-in-law and former boss speaks to them!
Oh! Did I forget to mention that?
The person making the comments failed to divulge her previous employment at Poets Cafe or her marriage to Ron Geyl’s brother. Nor did she mention that their company currently does business with him.
Montville is undoubtedly beautiful. That is true of the entire region. And visitors, including LGBTIQ+ visitors, can rely on a warm and friendly welcome from the majority of people they encounter. QNews expected some resentment from the area after we publicised this incident, but instead, locals expressed remorse and regret and even gratitude that someone finally spoke up publicly about what many consider a blight on their village.
Indeed, the two women we wrote about considered Montville for their wedding when they noticed the Rainbow Pride flag stickers decorating local businesses. More local businesses have since decided to publicly display their commitment to diversity and inclusion.
One local straight business owner whose business does not cater to the tourist trade, nevertheless told QNews he had ordered a Rainbow Pride Flag for the front of his business. Not because it will increase his business, but because he is offended that people were treated with disrespect and a lack of courtesy in his town.
QNews and the two women ordered to leave Poets Cafe Montville urge members of our community to visit this beautiful region. We also ask that our community members avoid harassing or inconveniencing staff or patrons of Poets Cafe Montville. None of us know what conditions the staff work under. Finding a job is difficult at this time. Let’s not make people’s lives harder. Many patrons will also be unaware of the history of the business.
C and J
C and J, the couple QNews wrote about, expressed their gratitude for the support of the LGBTIQ+ communities and our allies.
“We are grateful for the people at QNews, PFLAG and other LGBT+ advocacy groups for their genuine support and advice. We’re lucky to be queer in 2020 and that in this country we can reasonably expect better than this. We hope that this will prove a learning opportunity for Poets Cafe Montville and others.”
Finally, QNews does not know what inspired Ron Geyl to give his cafe the name he did. But, in case he is a lover of poetry, we finish with some favourite lines.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
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